Loud Pipes Save Lives Is a Horrible Myth

written by David Mixson

The notion that loud pipes save lives has never impressed me. At best, it’s a hoax conjured up by white-collar executives in tall buildings who probably don’t even ride. 

At worst, it’s a horrible myth that takes more lives than it saves.

The marketing slogan, popularized by loud pipes makers and one particular bike manufacturer, has spread like an invasive cancer.

If you want loud pipes because you think they sound good, that’s fine. But I’m afraid far too many riders use the concept as their first and only round of defense to lower their chances of crashing.

This makes absolutely no sense. And frankly, it’s lazy.

My hunch is that most riders who subscribe to this lame hoax are likely the same ones who brag they don’t use their front brake because it’s dangerous, and their bike has never seen the rain.

But I can’t know for sure.

With nearly half of all motorcycle crashes caused by rider error, how exactly do loud pipes help in single-vehicle accidents? 

The short answer is they don’t.

The idea that “Loud Pipes Save Lives” is a bad one because it makes riders feel like they’re doing something real to reduce their chances of crashing—when they really aren’t.

“I don’t need to understand countersteering, know what lowside and highside crashes are (and what triggers them), or wear brightly colored gear—because I have loud pipes.”

Ineffective at Best

Like wearing a helmet doesn’t change your chances of crashing, riding a motorcycle with loud pipes doesn’t keep you from crashing all by yourself—and they certainly don’t help you ride better. 

At best, loud pipes are hugely ineffective. 

I challenge you to find the bike with loud pipes the next time you hear one while driving. I’m always amazed at how difficult they are to spot—probably because sound isn’t very directional inside a car. 

I’ve also noticed I can’t hear bikes with loud pipes when the rider is approaching me in the opposite lane—where the Hurt Report showed riders were most likely to be hit by motorists turning left in front of us. 

The truth is this. Riders would be better off with a basic knowledge of how motorcycles work and a hi-vis yellow riding jacket. 

If loud pipes saved lives, wouldn’t cruiser-types crash less often? 

Show me that data, please. I don’t think it exists.

Still not convinced? Here’s what Motorcycle Cruiser magazine said.

“Yeah, there are a few situations, like when you are right next to a driver with his window down who is about to change lanes where full-time noise-makers might help a driver notice you, but all that noise directed rearward doesn’t do much in the most common and much more dangerous conflict where a car turns in front of you. Maybe it’s the fatigue caused by the noise, maybe it’s the attitudes of riders who insist on making annoying noise, or perhaps loud bikes annoy enough drivers to make them aggressive. Whatever the reason, the research shows that bikes with modified exhaust systems crash more frequently than those with stock pipes.”1

What’s powerful about the statement is that Cruiser made it even though its advertising base is made up of companies that profit from the loud pipes mantra. Way to call it like it is.

* A portion of this article is an excerpt from my book Motorcycle Hacks.

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About the Author

David Mixson writes about the topics other motorcycle books gloss over. He worked as a NASA engineer for over thirty years and is the author of three books.

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